The first time the Eastern Illinois women's basketball team faced Southeast Missouri State, the Panthers trailed by five points going into the fourth quarter. Then the game went off the rails for the Panthers. They scored only six points as SEMO ran away with the game with a 24-point fourth quarter for a 77-54 win.
It was one major bump in the road for a young EIU team that's dealt with its fair share of bumps this season. It seemed like things have smoothed out a bit and the fourth quarter has gone a bit better for the Panthers, besides a hiccup against Tennessee Tech on Feb. 3, but EIU is still suffering through a nine-game losing streak as it faces the Redhawks again at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
EIU coach Matt Bollant thinks the team has grown a bit mentally since the first matchup.
"It's a hard thing when you are young to play consistently at this level and it's mentally tough to do for four quarters," Bollant said. "We are trying to get to that point."
EIU is 2-23 overall and 1-13 in the Ohio Valley Conference. A loss to SEMO or a win by either Murray State or Eastern Kentucky officially eliminates the Panthers from the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.
Things haven't gone smoothly for SEMO since the win against EIU, either. SEMO beat Tennessee Tech in its next game, but the Redhawks have lost four of its last five games and are on a three-game losing streak. The losing streak has put the Redhawks right on the edge of making the OVC Tournament since they are now seventh in the conference with a 6-8 record with Murray State and EKU breathing down their neck.
SEMO is 11-15 overall. Freshman Tesia Thompson leads SEMO with 12.6 points per game, including 15.1 per game in OVC play, and has grabbed 5.3 rebounds per game to go along with 44 steals. Ashton Luttrull is averaging 11.4 points per game, including 13.8 in OVC play, and Deja Jones is averaging 11.1 points per game in OVC play. Adrianna Murphy leads the OVC with 5.4 assists per game this season.
Murphy was 7-of-10 shooting with 15 points and she had four assists and six rebounds in SEMO's win over EIU.
"Their point guard makes them go and I thought she was important in the first game," Bollant said. "I just feel like she does a lot for them, even when it doesn't show up in the stats."
SEMO controlled the boards against EIU in the first meeting, outrebounding the Panthers 52 to 38. EIU has been rebounding a bit better, thanks to Jennifer Nehls. The sophomore post player has picked up her production and had eight rebounds on Saturday.
"I think Jenn played really well the last game," Bollant said. "Her rebounding has been up and down and it has been more consistent lately. We need to find more players to be like her and go and get it."
Nehls also had 15 points in the loss on Saturday and Bollant said she's picked up her all-around game, too. She didn't have a turnover on Saturday and had six assists.
"She certainly plays hard," Bollant said. "She's making the effort for sure and blocking out and if we can add some stability to our post, we've been inconsistent there and if she can be stable, that would help us."
Karle Pace is averaging 11.9 points per game for EIU in OVC play and Taylor Steele is averaging 11.6 points per game in league play.